Have you ever thrown a party but nobody came?
You made or ordered food, bought drinks, rearranged your home and decorated it. You picked the perfect playlist and got the lights just right. Then, you ended up sitting there alone or with an awkwardly small number of people for hours.
That’s what having an eCommerce store without SEO (search engine optimization) can feel like.
You’ve got the merchandise. You’ve got a brand. But, without SEO, no one is coming.
Whether you’ve been considering SEO for a long time or are just starting your research, there’s a lot to learn. But, if you’ve come to this blog, you’re asking one particular question:
How much does SEO cost — and can my eCommerce business afford it?
Unsurprisingly, we’re here to tell you that SEO is actually a great investment — and that eCommerce websites of all sizes should invest in some level of SEO as part of their digital marketing budget.
Finding that right level (and price point) for your brand, however, can be understandably difficult.
Today, we’ll help you choose the right solution for your site by explaining:
- How much different SEO options cost
- Which factors impact your overall pricing
- And how to make this investment worth it for your business
Table of Contents
- How Much Does SEO Cost?
- SEO Features Your Site Needs
- Factors Affecting Your Overall Cost
- Is an SEO Program Worth It for Your Site?
- Get a Custom Quote Today
How Much Does SEO Cost?
Generally, SEO costs can be broken down by the level of investment you want or need. The more services (and better results) that you want, the more you’ll have to invest.
Like with other digital marketing services, you get what you pay for. Don’t let the lowest quote cloud your judgment; consider what you’ll be getting for that price and how you can realistically expect your organic performance to change.
For example: The larger your site, the more services you’ll need to make an impact on your results — hence, why you can expect to pay more for your eCommerce SEO agency.
Below, we’ve listed some average eCommerce SEO costs, based on our own agency pricing and competitor research. Keep in mind: These “tiers” represent the quantity of services, not quality.
Average Monthly Retainer eCommerce SEO Pricing
- Tier 1: Less than $2,500 per month
- This tier is typically designed for start-up, small, and midsize eCommerce sites that need basic SEO services at a lower engagement.
- Tier 2: $2,500–$5,000 per month*
- This tier is typically designed for start-up, small, and midsize eCommerce sites that wish to go beyond basic SEO services into more technical optimizations and content marketing.
- Tier 3: $5,000–$10,000 per month*
- This service tier is typically designed for midsize to large eCommerce sites that want full-service SEO, including technical and content optimizations.
- Tier 4: More than $10,000 per month*
- This service tier is typically designed for industry-leading eCommerce sites that need a large, detailed engagement, encompassing everything from basic SEO to content production and technical support.
*In addition to a monthly retainer, eCommerce SEO packages at these tiers often include additional hourly charges (with hourly rates typically between $100 and $250) and/or fees for specific projects such as site migrations and SEO audits.
Remember: These are simply ballpark estimates. The actual cost of your eCommerce SEO program will depend on many factors (which we’ll talk about in depth below).
The best way to figure out what you should pay is by talking to multiple professionals or agencies, who can explain what is a reasonable cost for SEO services for your site.
Beware the Red Flags
When collecting SEO quotes, be aware that some companies use specific pricing strategies in an attempt to make their proposals seem more appealing.
The problem with working with these companies is that SEO is a long-term strategy — and the actions of an unscrupulous agency can lead to penalties from Google, Bing, and other search engines that might take years to overcome.
Watch out for a few of these red flags that can tip you off to less-than-reputable offerings:
The “Too Good to Be True”
Because SEO pricing can be complicated and vary greatly among businesses, it’s a good idea to get quotes from multiple agencies to understand the costs associated with your goals.
As you gather these quotes, it might be tempting to choose the one that is significantly less than the others. Resist that temptation.
A low quote is often the result of an individual or agency planning to devote little time to your website. Instead, they simply want to get you (and your revenue) on their client books and won’t be able to offer much in the way of a substantial SEO strategy.
It could also be because the individual or agency has little experience with SEO and how much of an investment it takes to do it right. If this is the case, they won’t have the expertise (or bandwidth) to get real results for your eCommerce site.
Whether we’re talking too little time or too little expertise, strongly consider rejecting outright any quotes that are substantially below market average.
The “Cookie-Cutter” Quote
Some SEO companies offer flat-rate packages that include a certain number of blogs, links, etc. While this might seem like a simple way to optimize your site, it’s actually a very inefficient approach.
SEO is a rapidly changing and highly individualized industry. Regular algorithm changes and the actions of your competitors are constantly altering the landscape your eCommerce site exists in.
With a flat-rate package, you are likely either paying for services you don’t need or not getting the services you do need.
Instead, choose an SEO company that continually assesses your eCommerce website’s needs and adjusts your scope of work to fit those priorities.
The “Guaranteed Results” Quote
Other SEO companies try to make their quote seem more appealing by adding on a guarantee of results. They might promise certain keyword rankings, organic traffic, or even revenue numbers for your online store, based on their previous case studies.
However, the truth is that SEO is a constantly shifting field, every website is different, and no one can guarantee success.
Your quote should focus on what the company will do to strive for that success — rather than on a promise it may not keep.
SEO Features eCommerce Sites Need
As you’re reviewing your options, remember that SEO for eCommerce sites is not the same as SEO for other types of websites — for one big reason.
eCommerce websites have many more pages (and types of pages) than a typical website. This includes a homepage, product pages, category pages, promotion pages, and more — all of which have their own specific SEO needs.
In addition, the more products an online store has, the more pages it has. Ideating, creating, and optimizing content for those pages, as well as the technical complexities that go along with them, can quickly drive up the cost of SEO services.
And don’t forget about blogging, which is an integral part of SEO content marketing, too.
So, while eCommerce sites might benefit from some of the same strategies as other sites, they also frequently require more work than otherwise comparable sites. This means that website managers should be prepared to get quotes with higher estimates than they may expect.
That said, an agency should be able to defend their proposal and explain why it contains the right scope of work to achieve the results you want for your website.
Factors Affecting Your Overall SEO Costs
SEO costs are about more than just the working hours involved. A multitude of factors will impact your overall pricing, and you should be aware of them before you start contacting professionals.
- Choice of Professional
- Tools & Resources
- Target Reach
- Size & Complexity of Site
- Industry & Competition
- Goals & Desired Results
1. Choice of Professional
Many people and companies offer SEO services, but not all are equal.
Remember to compare the costs, limitations, and benefits of each type of professional before signing any contract.
An SEO agency can offer you a team of experts and support personnel. You’ll likely have multiple people working on your account, though they might not all be dedicated full-time to you.
Our advice: Recognize the signs that you should hire an agency, and move when the time is right.
- Access to top professionals
- Extensive experience, training, and resources
- Get easy access to related services (PPC, social media marketing, etc.)
- Often use the best tools in the business
- Proven track record
- Stake their reputation on your brand
- More expensive to hire
- May be slow to start work if they’re in demand
- May require additional support services (web designer, web developer, copywriter, etc.)
A contractor or freelancer runs an independent business, either as an implementer or an SEO consultant. They might have some support staff, but they aren’t a full agency.
Some of these people are great marketers and SEO experts, but they might have limited resources.
- Cheaper than an agency (the average monthly retainer for a freelancer is less than half an agency’s)
- May have extensive insight, experience, and training
- Often focus solely on SEO
- Easier to hire and fire than internal staff
- Often juggle multiple clients
- May have limited access to tools
- Often don’t provide client oversight of their day-to-day work
- Likely require additional support services (designer, web developer, copywriter, etc.)
On the other hand, you can also decide to hire an in-house SEO expert.
Having a full-time SEO strategist can be a good investment for some companies, as long as you maintain reasonable expectations for what they can achieve.
- Know your company well from the inside
- Can build a trusting, lasting relationship
- Dedicated solely to SEO
- Provide more employer oversight of day-to-day operations
- Can be expensive to hire (the average salary of an SEO strategist is $90,000, plus benefits)
- Only provide as much expertise as you hire
- Require extra costs of SEO tools
- Can be hard to fire and replace
SEO isn’t just one simple task. It’s composed of a number of tasks that take varying amounts of time and may benefit from different expertise.
The cost of your SEO campaigns will depend on which services you choose, as well as the time investment you put into each.
Technical SEO makes it easier for search engine robots to crawl and index your site. It’s the critical foundation for all your SEO efforts.
It uses strategies like crawl budget, schema, sitemaps, user experience, and page speed to improve your website’s ranking — and requires a great deal of knowledge from your chosen professional. Depending on your team’s capabilities, you may also need to shell out for a developer to implement certain changes on their behalf.
On-page SEO ensures that web pages have all the features to communicate with search engines, including title tags, meta descriptions, internal linking, no duplicate content, and alt tags for image optimization.
Page optimization is complex for eCommerce sites, which have many types of content and many individual pages to manage. The more pages that you want to update, the more you will pay for your SEO professional’s time.
Content marketing involves creating pages with high-quality content that attracts links and encourages high rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPs). It can also promote a higher conversion rate with appealing product descriptions.
Typically, SEO content marketing means running an extensive, informational blog. This often involves hiring freelance writers to produce content on a regular basis, another cost to consider in your overall investment.
Your site’s ranking benefits from high numbers of inbound links to your eCommerce website.
Link-building, also called off-page SEO, refers to using honest methods to build up the number of backlinks leading into your website. It should not be confused with link-buying, a dishonest approach to acquiring links that can lead to serious penalties for your eCommerce site (and is often a waste of money).
Instead, white-hat linking building occurs through producing high-quality content and investing in digital PR strategies.
3. Tools & Resources
As the complexity of SEO has increased, experts have developed specialized tools to speed up tasks and improve results.
If you try to do SEO on your own (or hire an in-house expert), you’ll have to pay for these tools separately. A freelancer will likely have some limited tools, while an agency usually has access to all the tools they need to do the job.
Site crawlers duplicate what the search engine bots do: They crawl your website and analyze its quality. They let you find problems with your site so you can fix them and improve your site’s quality and ranking.
We’ve listed some popular crawlers and their base pricing below:
- Semrush: starts at $119.95/month
- Ahrefs: starts at $99/month
- Screaming Frog: free to crawl fewer than 500 URLs; $209/year for any more
- Sitechecker: starts at $23/month
Keyword Research Tools
Keyword research tools are critical to SEO efforts, because you need to know which keywords to target to bring in relevant website traffic.
The most popular keyword research tools also include site crawlers. Additional options are listed below:
- Semrush: starts at $119.95/month
- Ahrefs: starts at $99/month
- Google Keyword Planner: free with a Google account
- Answer the Public: free, with upgrade option starting at $79/month
- Moz Keyword Explorer: free, with upgrade option starting at $99/month
Analytics tools let you track your website’s data, including number of visitors, the paths visitors take through your website, and which pages lead to conversions. Many analytics tools provide free versions, with upgrades available for more complex data gathering and analysis.
Skilled Human Experts
Not all your SEO tools will be technology. You’ll also need tools in the form of skilled human experts, like copywriters, web developers, and more.
As mentioned above, many SEO companies will bake these services into their pricing. They often maintain their own staff of in-house or freelance copywriters who can quickly turn around any content optimizations needed. Otherwise, you will need to include the cost of copywriters (in-house or contract) in your own marketing budget.
A developer, on the other hand, is a professional you’ll likely need to hire on your own. Their personal knowledge of your site will make updates much easier than outsourcing through an agency, but you should expect to pay their hourly charges for implementing the changes your SEO professional suggests, especially if you have a complicated website platform.
4. Target Reach
Your SEO efforts can target either local traffic or global traffic.
Depending on your site needs and strategy, local SEO can sometimes be easier (and cheaper). While most eCommerce websites want global traffic, if you want mostly local traffic, you might be able to find a less expensive SEO company.
5. Size & Complexity of Your eCommerce Website
As your website evolves, so will its SEO needs.
How much of an investment you make into this marketing strategy will likely depend on your site’s “life stage,” as well as its overall size and relative complexity of use. The more complex your site is, the more you can expect to pay for your SEO services.
Start-Ups & Small Sites
New eCommerce websites need a lot of basic SEO. This isn’t simple, but it’s not the most complicated, either.
A very small business or start-up can often find less-expensive SEO providers to do the basic rollout of technical and content optimizations. However, if you go with a lower-cost agency, vet their credentials properly. If they do this work wrong, it will have to be redone later (often at a much higher cost).
In some cases, a complete setup of your SEO strategy from scratch could also cost you more upfront than a regular engagement would — but you’ll see quicker results than if you spread out those initial optimizations over a span of several months.
Mature, Midsized Websites
Mature websites have likely made some gains — but may have hit a wall as they battle for space in the SERPs against tough competitors.
If you’re in this situation, expect to pay more for a retainer, as well as more hourly costs for SEO, as your team invests in more extensive content marketing and technical strategies. The size of your product catalog will also play a role in your pricing; these extra services will be more affordable for sites that only sell 100 products than those that sell 1,000.
Large Sites & Industry Leaders
In some ways, SEO gets easier when you’re at the top of the eCommerce food chain. However, there are always competitors looking to chip away at your rankings, and your lists of keywords to target will be ever-growing.
Because SEO is an ongoing process, staying at the top can sometimes be even more expensive than getting there in the first place. But, by investing in your SEO at this point, you’ll save yourself the hard work of trying to climb your way back up later on.
That said, what you may save in content maintenance, you’ll definitely spend on product and category page upkeep.
If you sell thousands of products and/or have thousands of shoppers visiting your site on a daily basis, you’ll need to invest in detailed technical work to keep your site up to speed and browsing experience friendly to users.
In short, the larger and more complex your site gets, the more complicated (and costly) SEO will be — but the more opportunities you’ll have to find success.
Note: Your site’s complexity won’t always compare with your brand’s “life stage.” Instead, complexity can depend on the number of products you sell, the eCommerce platform you’re using, the intricacy of your design, and more. Your SEO professional should explain how your current setup will impact your pricing and the effectiveness of their team’s optimizations.
6. Industry & Competition
SEO costs can vary widely by industry — and the level of competition in that industry.
In some highly competitive industries, your site will require a lot of work to gain or maintain performance. Other industries are highly technical or restricted by Google (such as healthcare, finance, and legal) in a way that can make SEO more challenging and expensive.
Bottom line: The more competitive your space, the more you should expect to pay for the type of results you want.
7. Goals & Desired Results
And that leads us to the final factor influencing your SEO costs: the goals of your business and the results you expect to see.
As mentioned, SEO takes some time to work. While six months is the general timeline for seeing results in your reports, you can try to speed that up (or enhance those results) by allocating more resources to this strategy.
Doing so, of course, will cost you more money.
Your SEO professional should present to you several plans of action, including anticipated timelines for results with each. Don’t be afraid to ask how increasing or decreasing your investment could impact the timing of and overall results that you could see.
Is an eCommerce SEO Program Worth It for Your Site?
As you’re comparing your SEO pricing quotes and wondering if you’re ready for this investment, we encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:
1. Are you ready for a long-term investment?
Remember: SEO is not a quick fix. In fact, it often takes at least 6—12 months for this strategy to show results.
However, when you invest in this for the long haul, it can provide a firm foundation for maintaining a healthy eCommerce website, even in times of uncertainty.
2. Do you have access to copywriters?
Content creation is one of the most expensive and time-consuming parts of SEO.
Content marketing is essential — but if you don’t have access to expert in-house copywriters (or your agency doesn’t maintain them), you will have to pay extra for these services, at an average of $26 per hour.
3. Do you understand what SEO can (and can’t) do?
Unfortunately, SEO won’t let you topple Amazon or Walmart from the most-searched keywords. What it can do is increase your eCommerce site’s rankings, in turn increasing your organic revenue and profitability (and decreasing your reliance on PPC advertising).
SEO also requires ongoing efforts to maintain the results you achieve. It’s not a “get rich quick solution,” and it won’t dig your failing business out of a hole. Instead, it will provide steady results over the long term, as long as you’re patient.
4. Is there room in your marketing budget?
SEO is an investment. If you want to do it right, it’s not cheap, and you’ll need to prepare for spending thousands of dollars each month.
Like most investments, it’s also not a sure thing. While your efforts will likely yield results, no one can guarantee what they might be or how quickly they will appear.
If you’re not prepared to make this type of investment, you’re not ready for an extensive SEO program.
Get Custom SEO Pricing Today
We’ve talked about how the price of SEO can vary widely depending on your eCommerce site, your goals, and the company you work with.
Now, it’s up to you.
Start by reviewing your eCommerce site’s current and historical performance. Choose your next SEO goals and estimate how much investment may be involved.
Then, reach out to professionals for quotes — and start gathering your options.
Here at Inflow, we’re happy to provide free quotes to those considering eCommerce SEO services. We’ll always create a custom proposal for your needs, built around your goals and your budget. Together, we’ll come up with the SEO plan that works best for your online store.